Everything Schools Need to Know about International Student Insurance

Jeff CrawfordJeff Crawford | April 17, 2017

As the number of international students studying in the US continues to climb, many schools have found that health insurance for this growing student body has become a concern. 

Some schools may be rethinking their approach to international student insurance; others may be considering how best to handle their very first mandated group policies. No matter the situation your institution faces, there is plentyto learn about health coverage for international students.

International Students Are Different

Some school administrators look at international students and domestic students and see one group: students. In the past, many schools have opted to treat international students in the same way as their domestic student body. This ignores the important differences between the two groups: International students have different needs than domestic students. 

Schools and students are better served when the international student insurance plan is separated from the domestic student plan.

You Should Mandate

Some schools prefer not to mandate international student insurance. In the view of some, this allows students to shop around for policies that best fits their needs. Mandating a plan, it’s argued, limits student freedom and choice. It can also be perceived to create more responsibility and work for the international office and administrators. 

The problem, of course, is that some students, especially international students unfamiliar with the medical terrain in the US, do not know what they are looking for. Others will simply opt for the cheapest plan, which may be nothing at all, if they can get away with it. A search for “cheap health insurance” on Google returns 6.7 MILLION pages, the top results being advertisements highlighting insurance plans for only $19 per month! 

International students don’t know how to navigate the complex individual health insurance market. That means students can be left high and dry when they actually do need medical attention. Allowing international students to select their own individual plans also creates an unintended consequence of requiring advisors and administrators to act as insurance specialists while they recommend coverage to the students, answer countless questions, and check coverage that students purchase. 

By mandating a plan, a school can ensure that each and every one of its international students has the same quality of coverage. Mandating a group plan protects all the stakeholders in your international education community – the students, the international office and school administrators, as well as the medical providers in your community.

Not All Plans Are Equal

Like students, plan administrators may find themselves a little lost at sea when it comes time to shop for international student health insurance. While price is obviously an important consideration, so are factors such as coverage and support.

Always think aboutwhat your students needs are vs. what a planmay provide to your school— will you and the students who are covered receive the support you need? Does the plan have a great price, but offer minimal coverage? Not all plans are created equal, so schools must remain alert to which plans are truly the best options for their needs.

International Students Are ACA-Exempt

International students studying on certain visas currently receive an exemption from the Affordable Care Act, which means their health insurance policies do not have to be ACA-compliant. That’s different from domestic students, who require a plan that works within the ACA framework.

Don’t make international students carry the additional burden of paying premium prices and higher out of pocket costs for insurance they don’t need; always consider an ACA-exempt plan for international student insurance.

Go Above and Beyond

The best international student insurance plans go above and beyond simply offering insurance coverage; they also offer help where students and administrators need it the most. Explaining coverage to students can be difficult, especially when complex insurance terms get tossed into the mix.

Plans should offer a range of assistance services at no additional cost, such as educational materials for students and assistance offered in their own language. That can help them understand the coverage they have—and help plan administrators ensure every student is aware of the coverage and how to use it.

Help Your Recruitment

Schools that don’t mandate their international student insurance policies are putting themselves behind the eightball when it comes to their recruitment efforts. While some people believe students should be given freedom of choice when it comes to insurance plans, students and their parents prefer to have their schools offer mandated group plans.

So, remove a huge hassle for both your institution and your international students and make it a seamless experience by offering the right group coverage on a mandated basis. 

How to Evaluate International Student Health Insurance Options

Jeff Crawford

Jeff is vice president of The Lewer Agency’s LewerMark Student Insurance division. He is also a member of the Lewer Life Insurance Company Board of Directors. Jeff joined the Lewer Companies in 2005 as director of student insurance. Lewer is a Global Partner with NAFSA and Jeff has been a featured speaker at both regional and national conferences. He also has a BS in Marketing from Kansas State University. Jeff is an avid sports fan and has been a Chiefs season ticket holder for 30 years. He enjoys spending time at the lake in Northwest Arkansas with family and friends as much as possible. Jeff and his wife Kim have three children who have all graduated from college and are gainfully employed.

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